JOSH O’CON­NOR

Ryan Cahill sits down with the BAFTA nom­i­nated ac­tor to dis­cuss his ac­claimed queer flick, God’s Own Coun­try.

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents -

Ris­ing star of the act­ing world, Josh O’Con­nor, has just been nom­i­nated for a BAFTA along­side his lat­est flick, God’s Own Coun­try – a love story set in ru­ral York­shire and one of the UK’s bi‚est and best of 2017. As he awaits to hear his BAFTA fate, we catch up with Josh to talk Loewe, straight ac­tors in gay roles, and han­dling gay sex scenes.

2017 saw a huge in­sur­gence in the amount of queer films be­ing re­leased in­ter­na­tion­ally, from Luca Guadagnino’s peach per­fect Call My By Your Name to El­iza Hittman’s emo­tive indie Beach Rats. But it was God’s Own Coun­try, the ru­rally set story of love and ac­cep­tance be­tween a farmer and his South­east­ern Euro­pean ap­pren­tice that was the sur­prise hit of queer cinema. In a di­rec­to­rial de­but from Fran­cis Lee, the film ex­ceeded all expectations by filling out cin­e­mas, re­sult­ing in a re-re­lease, and be­com­ing an awards sea­son fave, col­lect­ing Best Ac­tor and Best Screen­play De­but at the Bri­tish In­de­pen­dent Film Awards, the World Cinema Di­rect­ing Award at Sun­dance, and most re­cently, a BAFTA Out­stand­ing Bri­tish Film nom­i­na­tion and an EE Ris­ing Star nod for the films lead, Josh O’Con­nor.

This is the sec­ond time I’ve met Josh. The first was when God’s Own Coun­try was in the week be­fore the film was re­leased; in ad­vance of the press whirl­wind, ahead of the the film (and O’Con­nor) ac­quir­ing a huge fan fol­low­ing and prior to the string of ac­co­lades and nom­i­na­tions that God’s Own Coun­try would come to amass. When we meet to­day, on a cold windy Thurs­day in Soho The­atre, he’s seem­ingly worlds away from the man I met 6 months ago. He’s no longer shy and re­served, in­stead greet­ing me like an old friend with a warm em­brace. It’s al­most as though his turn as the films tor­tured pro­tag­o­nist Johnny Saxby has both ma­tured and mel­lowed him. Truth be told, O’Con­nor is a gen­uinely good guy, the kind that you want to go down the pub and have a pint with.

But, in­stead of a pint, we sit down for a fruity wa­ter to talk about his ris­ing star sta­tus. Firstly, tell us how you got in­volved with God’s Own Coun­try. I guess the cast­ing di­rec­tor would have sent the script to my agent. I was film­ing in Corfu and I read it and I was like “this is amaz­ing, this is beau­ti­ful.” I couldn’t meet be­cause I was away, so I did a tape and I sent it in. I’ve now found out from do­ing Q&A’s with Fran­cis [Lee] that he saw the tape and was like “oh my god, I’ve found some­one from Keigh­ley and he’s great for it, the only prob­lem is he looks re­ally trou­bled and might be a bit prob­lem­atic” so he was like “I’ll meet him and see what he’s like be­cause I don’t want to work with some­one that’s prob­lem­atic” and then he met me and re­alised I was from Chel­tenham Spa and…posh! How would you de­scribe your work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Fran­cis? He’s gen­uinely one of my best mates, like a broth­erly fig­ure re­ally. We’d go through where he was born, what was the name of his first friend, his first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence, his first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence with a man, and we went through ev­ery­thing in such de­tail.

Were you quite wrapped up in your char­ac­ter? To­tally! By the time we got to set, I kept my­self to my­self, I had been work­ing on the farm for like two or three weeks be­fore we started shooting and there would be times when John the farmer would come down on a quad bike and they’d call cut on a scene and John would come in with a ewe to be lambed. I’d lamb the ewe and then wash my hands and then call ac­tion and do an­other take — crazy! It must have been re­ally strange when you wrapped film­ing, hav­ing be­ing so in­vested in the role. A lot of au­di­ences will come and see our film and be like “what hap­pens next?” and what I love about this film, the fi­nal shot is the door clos­ing be­hind Ghe­o­rgie and Johnny. I wrote a back­story for Johnny un­til the first day of the nar­ra­tive of the film, and then I al­ways saw the point where they

close the door as a good­bye, and it is sad and sometimes you have lit­tle pangs of “I miss Ghe­o­rgie or I miss Johnny” but that’s cool and the best thing about my job is that I get to live those char­ac­ters, oth­er­wise they wouldn’t ex­ist. Speak­ing of Alec who plays Ghe­o­rgie, how did you cre­ate the on-screen chem­istry that the

pair had? I’d been cast and then Fran­cis had seen a few Ro­ma­nian ac­tors in Bucharest and he flew three over to do a chem­istry read with me. All three of them were bril­liant. What was so amaz­ing was that where I was go­ing with Jonny, I was find­ing him to be quite fre­netic, quite anx­ious but wouldn’t ever show it be­cause he was all about show­ing mas­culin­ity and an inar­tic­u­lacy. I had this in­abil­ity to be vul­ner­a­ble, and there was this char­ac­ter or this ac­tor [Alec] who came in and had a calm­ing pres­ence. Me and Fran­cis didn’t dis­cuss it but I just knew that Fran­cis liked him and I liked him but there was this thing af­ter­wards where it was like “that is per­fect” be­cause that was ex­actly what works for Jonny — the coun­ter­bal­ance and the calm pres­ence and un­der­stand­ing. So then me and Fran­cis talked about the fact we didn’t want me and Alec to meet again un­til we both met on­screen, so then Alec stayed in a ho­tel and I stayed in my lit­tle cot­tage in the mid­dle of nowhere, so we didn’t talk or meet un­til we first meet on-screen.

So it was kind of an or­ganic chem­istry. Yeah, it felt very or­ganic! Alec worked in a sim­i­larly de­tailed way with Fran­cis sep­a­rately, and we never shared our back­story and still to this day I have no idea what he wrote, but as soon as you’ve got two char­ac­ters that have so much depth and you know the nar­ra­tive, you know where we’re headed, the chem­istry kind of hap­pens. When you’ve got two

ac­tors that are en­gaged and will­ing to lis­ten and be kind to each other and sup­port each other, you can have so much fun and be wild and take risks and so I never felt, and I don’t think Alec ever felt, un­safe. Yet we had to feel quite vul­ner­a­ble be­cause there’d be mo­ments where I’d do some­thing a bit men­tal and we’d have to just run with it and like­wise Alec, and that was kind of the rule, we’d do what we thought was right and Fran­cis would guide us that way. How did you han­dle film­ing the more ex­plicit

scenes to­gether? Amaz­ing to think about how safe it felt! That was the one scene where me and Alec had to meet be­fore we shot, so we chore­ographed it, it was so de­tailed! There was a twenty point plan so it was like “Jonny grabs his crotch, grabs Gho­ergie’s shoul­der, pushes him down, they roll”. It’s like ev­ery sin­gle de­tail was planned. I read an ar­ti­cle the other day in The Guardian which said it was the sex­i­est scene of the year. I think I thought it was fuck­ing sexy! It seems so rough but ac­tu­ally it was so or­gan­ised and planned and I think that does make it feel safe be­cause you feel like you’re go­ing through the mo­tions to­gether. But also, de­spite call­ing it chore­og­ra­phy, that doesn’t show on screen at all, it seems re­ally nat­u­ral. Yes! The points were planned but in­be­tween any­thing could have hap­pened, so as long as you’ve got a ground work of a planned jour­ney then it can sort of go off on it’s own lit­tle tan­gent. Why do you think it is that it’s res­onated with so many peo­ple, both gay and straight? I think there is some­thing to do with the fact that it’s a love story not set in a metropoli­tan en­vi­ron­ment. [An­drew Haigh’s] Week­end is a beau­ti­ful film, but it’s a metropoli­tan love story and we see that all the time. I also think it’s so real, it’s au­then­tic, it’s not glitzy or pretty, again not to bring in other films, there are cer­tain films this year that are beau­ti­ful love sto­ries, quite glam­orous and very beau­ti­ful look­ing and sometimes you want that, but I think sometimes you just want to see fuck­ing real life. You want to see you rep­re­sented on-screen. I feel like that’s why a lot of peo­ple have got be­hind it. Speak­ing of rep­re­sen­ta­tion on-screen, there is kind of an on-go­ing de­bate about straight

ac­tors play­ing gay roles, I won­dered what your

thoughts were on that? I think it’s a re­ally dif­fi­cult one be­cause ul­ti­mately — in some ways this is the best way to de­scribe it — if you go into a cast­ing room, it would be im­pos­si­ble for Fran­cis for in­stance to say “tell me your sex­u­al­ity”. Ul­ti­mately, we should con­tinue to fight for equal­ity across all roles. I think from Fran­cis’ point of view, it was a case of “let’s cast this role in the best way that we pos­si­bly can or who I think is best for that role”. Un­for­tu­nately across the board and in ev­ery as­pect of cast­ing there are is­sues, but I think my stance on it as an ac­tor is that my job is to rep­re­sent a char­ac­ter as best I can, and if I ever feel like I can’t, I would say. Do you think that the UK film in­dus­try has enough films which shines the lines on the LGBTQ community? That’s in­ter­est­ing. I think

there’s al­ways more sto­ries and I guess projects like God’s Own Coun­try can only be good, be­cause it’s a low bud­get film, there’s no stars in it and it’s bro­ken records in terms of box of­fice so that can only be a good thing! I think there should be more. As a cinema fan, I would like to see more. This year has been in­cred­i­ble; Beach Rats, Call Me By Your Name, BPM, God’s Own Coun­try, all th­ese great films and all be­ing un­be­liev­ably suc­cess­ful so that’s re­ally cool. But yeah, there can al­ways be more! You’re nom­i­nated for the BAFTA for EE Ris­ing Star. How does it feel to be nom­i­nated? I vote ev­ery year for the Ris­ing Star and think it’s the most amaz­ing thing. The idea of be­ing up there is just pretty men­tal! I know it’s a group of in­cred­i­ble ac­tors, and some of whom I know. It’s a mas­sive hon­our.

What would it mean to you to win? I’d just be over­whelmed. You’d get a rub­bish speech out of me. It would mean a lot, but it’s weird, it doesn’t seem like a real thing. Es­pe­cially as a young ac­tor, you never re­ally ev­ery imag­ine that you’ll be there, so it’s a weird thing to grasp! Aside from act­ing, you were re­cently named as the new face of Menswear for Loewe. How

did that come about? That came about be­cause Jonathan An­der­son saw the film and was like “I want that boy” so I think it was that sim­ple! I am a mas­sive fan of Jonathan and JW An­der­son but Loewe specif­i­cally! When I first met him we were in Madrid and he took me the Loewe store in Madrid! It’s not just about the fash­ion, it’s about the artis­tic merit of it. Char­lotte Ram­pling was the last am­bas­sador and I’m kind of ob­sessed with her, so it was kind of a com­bi­na­tion of those things but Jonathan is just an in­cred­i­ble man!

You’ve been so busy re­cently, what’s next? I’m do­ing some­thing with the BBC. I’m do­ing an adap­tion of Les Mis­er­ables, but it’s not a mu­si­cal. It’s an adap­tion of the novel with Do­minic West, Olivia Col­man, so it’s an amaz­ing cast!

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